OnDating:Online Dating and Deception

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009

It's a classic tale from the files of almost every veteran online dater. Finally, on date No. 1,264, someone interesting shows up. Cute and smart and in possession of whatever that rare thing is that makes the heart quicken and time stop.

Everything brims with potential and excitement -- until it drops over dessert: "My wife, er, ex-wife, er, soon-to-be-ex-wife . . ."

He's married.

And of course, you never thought to ask about marital status because why in the name of all things holy would a married person be using a dating site???

Never mind. You know the answer to that.

And in truth, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to deception in online dating.

Joe Tracy, editor of Online Dating Magazine, says (gasp!) people often misrepresent themselves in dating profiles. Men, his site found, lie most often about age, height and income; women are most likely to stretch the truth about weight, physical appearance and age.

True.com was one of the first dating sites to try to combat the problem, though even chief executive Herb Vest admits the service's ability to weed out liars is frustratingly limited. Subscribers to the site are required to attest that they are unmarried and have no record of felonies.

The site runs a background check to verify there's no criminal record, but establishing a person's marital status is much more difficult because public records are often murky. For that, True.com has to rely primarily on customer service complaints.

Match.com, meanwhile, recently launched a new -- free -- online dating site with an honor code and peer-rating system. The service, DowntoEarth.com, "was created for honest, respectful singles to meet online," boasts its Web site.

Still, Tracy says, a determined scammer can almost always find a way to game the system.

Already Vest has filed suits against users who lied about their criminal background.

"One of these days," he adds, "I'm going to haul off and sue one of these married people -- just to put the fear of God in them, too."

Found yourself feeling scammed by a date you met online? Tell us about it at dating@washpost.com.

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